On a recent Sunday during our church service, I noticed several babies under a year old whose little bright faces were peering over their mother’s shoulders at those who were behind their parents. Such happy faces and sweet smiles! Before the service began, one young preschooler was on her grandfather’s lap with her head on his shoulder just quietly enjoying peace, safety, and love of the moment with her grandfather. No words were spoken, just being with each other in comfort.
All was well until one of the children decided he was uncomfortable and needed a change of his diaper. Another became hungry and fussed a bit until her mom could get the bottle ready. Another was tired and wanted to sleep, but fought the prospect of resting and sleeping. One minute all is well, and then the next, something is wrong and the baby cries, “Whoever my caregiver is, he/she needs to get busy and attend to my needs!”
Children have no problem being self-focused. If they are tired, hungry, bored, or just rambunctious, they do not hold back from letting others know what they want and when they want it. It does not matter if it is in church or at a store or while taking pictures, because children are absorbed in their own needs getting met. How do we parent children to become other oriented and help eliminate the focus of self?
Ephesians 1:1a Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
1. A godly sense of self is important. Paul knew he was an apostle of Christ and was not ashamed to tell others who he was. Yet, he still understood he was a sinner, forgiven of his sins, and could be righteous before God. He had a godly sense of who he was.
We strive to raise children to be aware that their importance is due to their love relationship with God and Jesus Christ. This begins by attaching to mom and dad as caregivers who nurture and love. When a child learns that he is safe, can trust his parents, feels loved, and has his physical needs met, he begins to see himself as a viable and valuable part of his immediate family and later on his larger community.
One problem with young children through most teen years is that the old man nature of importance of self above others is Satan’s way of manipulating them to be self-focused and be ego-centric. However, the child is capable of imitating behavior and being obedient to godly ways of living that the parents model so that godly habits are in place as he learns more about the Scriptures and faith grows.
How do we help a child to have a godly self-focus? Parents live this lifestyle. Our children imitate us. We can tell a child a thousand times that he is loved, but ignoring the child’s needs because the parent is too tired, or anxious, or sad, or too busy to take time to “be with” the child, all speaks so much louder. This is not to be confused with giving children toys, games, and clothes. A child does not have to perform or meet certain standards to be loved. He is loved because he is God’s child.
Parents are charged to nurture a child’s heart. Love, godly discipline, and instruction are vital to help a child have a sense of self that is sound and godly and then be able to learn to share, be kind to, and love others.
Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God
2. A godly focus of others is crucial. Children come with so many, many needs. Even if a parent has spent hours with them, if we leave for a short while, they cry because the parent is gone. As they begin to mature past separation anxiety, the child begins to be independent from mom and dad and function without their constant presence. Their words of instruction are in the child’s heart as she shares, is obedient, and says kind words to others. This is a monumental time of growth when the child begins to see that her needs are met and can branch out to be in relationship with others. Parents model the behavior, and children watch and imitate. Children learn that they do not have to be in anxiety states all the time because their needs are met by their parents and later on have understanding of God and Jesus Christ. They can have wisdom, instruction, and safe keeping from God who cares about them and provides for them. Building habits of prayer and repentance build godly character.
Parents use doctrine, reproof, and instruction to discipline. Telling the child the standard of behavior that is age appropriate is the first step. When the behavior is not up to par, then the child needs to acknowledge what he did. Then comes instruction about how to repent for what was done and how not to do it again. Children have very little natural concern for what impact their behavior has on others. There are some personalities that are more prone to being compliant than others. Whether strong willed or compliant, the process is the same.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.
Psalm 119:11 Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.
3. The words we say and words children say matter a lot. Teaching children that their words have great power to bless or harm others is vital. As adults, we have learned enough social graces that we watch what we say in certain circumstances, but when we get home or around those we are comfortable with, we talk in ungodly ways. More harm is done to a child by unkind and unloving words than most any action. Implanting and imbedding the Word in our children’s hearts becomes the basis of one’s thoughts and words. Bringing a child’s mind to the Word and how to think according to the Scriptures is an everyday task as you are waking, eating, playing, working, and getting ready to sleep.
One great benefit of raising godly children is that it encourages us to be better Christians. We have to live life the way we are expecting our children to live. We cannot be selfish, whining, foul-mouthed, or lacking in godly character. We are their examples of God and Christ. What a joy to bring up children, and in the process get better and better at being Christ like!
When I think of those sweet babies’ faces looking around at everyone so intently and full of innocence, I pray for them that they become strong men and women for God and Jesus Christ for their entire lives. But not all babies are “sweet and innocent” all the time. Some children appear to have difficult beginnings. Maybe they have colic or are on the grumpy or hard to please side. They may be very willful and rebellious. God’s wisdom of how to teach and train that child to love God, accept Christ, and live a godly life is available from God for ALL parents of all children. God clearly puts the responsibility to parent each child just as He works with each of us, with love, patience, and justice.